Margaret Bessie Peter Roberts
1929 - 2021
Mom was born Nov. 17, 1929, above Fort Yukon at Salmon River, the second child of Mary Elizabeth "Abbie" and Philip Peter. In her early years, the family would travel by dogsled to and from Fort Yukon for supplies and schooling. Margaret enjoyed these trips. All the kids would be tied into the warm moose skin toboggan under skins and canvas. Margaret went to public school up until fourth grade. She had no further schooling after that so she could help take care of her younger siblings and help her mom and dad. One year, the marshal came to town to take kids to boarding schools. Philip Peter met him at the door and told them his kids were not going anywhere. We know now that they were all very fortunate that Philip sternly sent them away. They stayed and attended school in Fort Yukon.
At the age of 17 mom went to work at the old Hudson Stuck Memorial Hospital. She worked 12-hour days and got paid $1 per day. She shared a lot of memories of working with very sick patients. In 1949 Fort Yukon had a devastating flood. Mom remembers the river water rolling over the banks toward the hospital. Patients and workers watched from the roof of the hospital as houses floated away. Mom said it was scary and sad.
Mom attended St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. Her Father Philip was the ordained minister. One Sunday morning at church during announcements, Hannah Solomon stood up and announced Margaret and Mardow will be married in August of that year; this is how mom found out she was getting married. When they wed, Mardow had $4 to his name. They were poor but with support from family they made do. Mom took odd jobs around town to help support her family, always working to keep herself busy. Two years after they married Bentley was born. Almost every year after that another child was born; Diane, Grafton Mardow Jr., Veronica, Phillip, Kevin, then Georgianna. Cloth diapers, no running water, wood stove, no TV, just a radio - life was good and always busy.
Margaret and Mardow had a tough marriage. Mom loved deeply but the struggle got to be too much. Mardow joined the carpenters union and they moved to Fairbanks. Mom worked two jobs at a time. She worked at the old St. Joseph Hospital and at Model D Cafe, sometimes after working all day. She would come home and Hannah would take her to bingo way out by Anderson and Clear Air Force Staton. She was tired but never said no. Living in Fairbanks didn't last long. The kids didn't enjoy it, and she missed home. Mom thought if she moved her family to Canyon Village, her marriage would be healthier. She packed up her home and moved. Canyon Village was wonderful; her sister Madeline also lived there. Caribou was plentiful and life was great. Mom learned to provide for her family on her own as Mardow didn't follow. Mom later moved her family back to Fort Yukon and continued to raise her kids.
Mom opened up a coffee shop in an attached room to her log cabin. The coffee shop, possibly named Midnight Sun, was a popular hangout in the evenings. Memories of the jukebox blaring while young couples danced, ladies in their go-go boots, bouffant hairdos, and guys with oil-slicked hair and straight-legged jeans would twist or jitterbug the night away. Margaret always had baked goods for sale in her showcase - pies, breads, cakes - and the place was always full of young happy people. Margaret worked as a food educator for a short time teaching locals how to prepare healthy foods. Mom also taught traditional sewing at the school or university. Lots of canvas boots, fur hats and gun cases came out of her teachings. Mom made hats and boots for her family and friends until she was 91 years old. Mom worked for BLM for many years. After putting in 13 years she decided to stop working and enjoy subsistence living. Mom was happiest in the woods relaxing.
Mom met Sammy Roberts years later while raising her kids alone. Sammy stole Mom's heart. They were together many years. He helped her with subsistence hunting and providing for her kids. In 1985 they adopted the most wonderful little newborn son, Johnny. He was 5 days old when he joined our family. He brings joy to our family and taught us all how to openly say we love you. I love you more than much! Mom and Sammy got married a couple years later. Mom said every time the military chaplain told Sammy to repeat after him lil Johnny would laugh real hard, point at Sammy and hold his tummy rolling in laughter on the floor. Mom and Sammy both worked in our community teaching traditional values and life styles. They were mentors to many in our village. We all learned a lot from them.
Mom loved celebrating birthdays. No matter who was having a birthday in the village she would bake them a cake, family or not. Mom was the most generous person. If anyone needed something she would help them out. She said never turn anyone away. If they need something, give it to them. Mom made it a point to visit anyone that was sick and always brought them something to eat. One evening in the 60s mom took out her last package of moose meat to cook for her kids. With a knock at the door, a small boy appeared with a note, "I have no food to cook for my kids." Mom bagged up her last package of meat and gave it to the boy. She then went to N.C. store and bought corned beef to cook for her family. We never went hungry even with a big family. She made do with what she had. Mom always had a clean house, food cooked, tea ready, kids dressed and clean. Mom always dressed nicely with her lacy clothes, pretty jewelry, red lipstick and perfectly curled hair. Mom loved her perfume and would often spray her brothers teasingly.
Mom's home was one of the first houses that had a telephone, a rotary dial wall phone. It didn't ring much but we'd often listen in on party line calls until we got caught or we'd get a collect call from someone wanting to talk to a neighbor or ask us to call the operator to call their landline. Not everyone had long distance so they'd have us call the operator to call their phone so they could arrange a call.
Mom was a true lady and always presented herself well. She was always strong, healthy and independent and always prepared for the upcoming season with traditional foods. Mom especially loved her porcupine and ground squirrel. She always saved one or two for her sister, Teresa Frost, and would cook it up for her when she came down from Old Crow. There's still two in her freezer waiting for Teresa.
Summers were spent at fish camp where salmon was plentiful. She had memories of them bringing back bundles and bundles of dry fish, then stored in the cache to use sparingly so they'd have enough for holidays and friends.
Mom enjoyed driving. In her early days she used to bomb around on her Bridgestone motorbike while wearing her cool stirrup pants, sleeveless tops and black sun glasses. Later on she drove her four-wheeler, zooming any which way. Locals knew to watch for her. She drove until May 2021, 91 years old.
Mom always said what she thought, she was a no-nonsense kinda person. Say what you think. Sometimes I'd hold my breath not knowing what she was about to say. She always supported our people in whatever they did.
Mom will be remembered as a strong traditional Gwich'in woman. Very strong Mama! She was a friend to all, provider, generous, classy, caring, energetic, always stylish and she had the best sense of humor and loved to tease! She loved her little 17-year-old Poochie dog and told her she'll miss her.
Mom planned her own service; she wasn't ready to go until everything she planned took place. Mom's presence will be missed but we can find comfort in knowing that she is now rejoicing in heaven and in no pain. Her loved ones greeted her at the pearly gates and welcomed her home.
Mom said she lived a long life and did all that she wanted to do. She said she was ready and was not afraid. Be happy and know she's now where she longed to be, at her heavenly home in the clouds where sorrow and pain are no more. Mom said Gwiheezyaa ga doonchyaa! It will be alright!
Margaret is survived by her brother, Donald Peter; sister, Teresa (Harold) Frost; her sons, Bentley, Mardow Jr., Phillip, Kevin, Johnny and son-in-law Bob; daughters, Veronica, Georgie and daughter-in-law Terry; grandchildren, Nathan, Vincent, Wally, Isaac, Owen (Dora), Isaiah, Jordan, Johnny, Chris (Andrea), Julianna (Ray), Alyssa and Dawson; great-grandchildren, Ben, Natalie, Alexis, Christian, Taya, Easton; goddaughter, Freda Joseph and Charlotte (Alexander); and numerous nieces, nephews, cousins, friends and relatives throughout the Gwich'in Nation, Canada/Alaska.
Margaret is preceded in death by her grandparents, Mae and Richard Martin; parents, Abbie and Philip Peter; siblings, Madeline (Stanley) Jonas, Zelma (Amos) Kelly, Ethel (Stephen) Frost, Jim (Charlotte) Peter, Johnny (Susie) Peter, twins, MacCarthur (Jinga) Peter; sister-in-law, Carolyn Peter; first husband, Mardow; second husband, Sammy; daughter, Diane; son Grafton and wife Patty; godmother Mary Thompson and goddaughter Anjanette Taylor.
Published by Daily News-Miner on Dec. 2, 2021.
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6 Entries
You and Ethel were mom's best friend all your love once welcome you with loving arms in heaven rest in peace
December 3, 2021
Heartful condolence all the family of Margaret. She was a caring giving person. Always Kind.
Danny kassi
December 2, 2021
Loved how the person who wrote this story told it. Margaret was an exceptional woman. It´s no surprise she live a long rich life. My condolences to the Solomons and Robert´s gamslues.
Ann Fears
December 2, 2021
What beautiful elder Margaret is . She worked hard and give her kids a good life . She will be missed . Prayers and comfort to her big family and Fort Yukon . Rest In Paradise , Margaret .
Darlene Herbert
December 2, 2021
I didn´t know Margaret but reading this wonderful tribute to her gave a glimpse into a life that spanned a significant part of two centuries. While reading I was able to get a sense of her struggles enveloped in a wonderful life. Her adaptability was amazing. Thank you for the details that make up the story of a woman for whom a best selling movie might be made. Rest In Peace, Margaret.
Patrice Lee
December 2, 2021
What an amazing woman, mother, and friend. What an amazing life story! Thank you for sharing this beautiful obituary. Wow.
December 2, 2021
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